Tag Archives: new york city

An egalitarian, Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Ugandan service? Sign. Me. Up.

I just posted this on the New Voices Magazine blog and I thought y’all might be interested too:

Today, in New Voices Magazine, Carly Silver writes about Sephardic student life, or lack thereof, at Columbia University.

Though the picture is mostly bleak, one group mentioned in the article stands out, New Yachad City. Part of Columbia University Hillel, New Yachad City tries to create services that are more reflective of the diversity of world Jewry.

They lead student excursions to different synagogues around New York City, typically off the beaten path. They also host their own monthly service. This month’s New Yachad City Friday night service is this week and I think I’m gonna go.

Details:

Alternative, egalitarian, multi-traditional Kabbalat Shabbat service in Earl Hall on Friday, October 28th at 6 PM. Welcome in the Sabbath with Shabbat tunes from Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Bnai Jeshurun Synagogue, Abudaya Jewish community and much more. Experience Shabbat services in a different way and learn about world Jewry while praying! Everyone is welcome!

If you’re planning on coming, let me know in the comments.

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Occupy Chag: A sukkah pops up in Zuccotti Park

Occupy Judaism pushes forward. After Kol Nidrei services in New York, Philly, DC, Chicago and Boston, Sukkot has come to the Wall Street protests of those cities as well as the protests of Atlanta and LA. Or so I hear. I can only report firsthand on the sukkah that went up at 5pm yesterday at Occupy Wall Street’s downtown Manhattan home base of Zuccotti Park.

A quick summary: There was a lot of press (probably more press than actual Jews celebrating Sukkot), the sukkah was a Pop-Up Sukkah (which you can see in the middle of popping up in the picture above) and music was provided by a klezmer band that just happened to be at the park. And the wind was blowing on a biblical scale.

I’ve got some thoughts about the alliance of Occupy Wall Street and DIY Judaism at New Voices.

I’ve also got a boatload of photos. I wanted to embed a Picasa slideshow of them like I did for Occupy Kol Nidrei, but Picasa isn’t playing nice with me right now. So instead, for my play-by-play of the whole, go check out my Facebook album, which is totally accessible to the public.

“Core Issues in Jewish Prayer: Meaning, Spirit and Music” at Hadar

What alternate universe did I wander into where I get to say things like the following: After work today, I went to the yeshiva for maariv and a shiur with my friend Simi, who goes to Stern.

The yeshiva, of course, was Hadar, the flagship institution of the traditional egalitarian movement. And while Stern College is the all-girls undergraduate school of Yeshiva University (the flagship institution of ever-rightward drifting Modern Orthodoxy), Simi is a notorious heretic whose skirts end at her knees, rather than below them. She’s also the founder of the YU Beacon, YU’s third newspaper and its only co-ed newspaper. And I’m doing my part to contribute to her delinquency by bringing her to places like Hadar.

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

Anyway, we went to Hadar last week for part 2 of “Core Issues in Jewish Prayer: Meaning, Spirit and Music–A Signature Lecture Series by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer and Joey Weisenberg,” which was taught by Elie. It was cool. The stream these things online, so you can check it out over here. Tonight’s video, stubbornly refusing to be embedded but screencapped above, is over here.

A few of Hadar’s copies of Yedid Nefesh, Josh Cahan’s bencher, were sitting out on a table tonight. I can’t figure out how to hyperlink this caption, but if you click on the picture it’ll take you to my review of YN from 2009.

For tonight’s lecture, the third and final of the series, Joey Weisenberg took over from Elie. Joey leads services over at the Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn, the best kept secret about Friday nights in New York City. The lecture was also more singing and participatory demonstration than lecture. It was also held in a room I suspect of being a glorified closet. I took a lot of notes and it gave me a lot of food for thought. Here’s what I got:

Joey Weisenberg

  • We were seated in concentric circle-ish things in the smallest room ever. Joey maintained throughout that the small size was plus. I would usually agree, but this was a tad on the claustrophobic side. There’s a fine line between cozy and cramped. This was cramped.
  • I’m generally more prepared for kumbaya-type stuff in a service than I otherwise am. This was only barely within my usual threshold for kumbaya-ness during services. So for something claiming to be a lecture, it took me a while to settle in.
  • The first nigun was very slow to start, but once it gets going, it’s great. It’s been a while since I’ve been to KSS. I had forgotten how much I like Joey.
  • Simi is totally not into it. Her mouth hasn’t opened except to whisper to me that she’s just realized this is streaming live on the internet. Worse yet, we’re quite visible in the video. “I’m on a live stream?” “Yeah. There’s gonna be evidence.”
  • I’m singing along. I’m being a good sport.
  • Leaning over to Simi, “What, Stern girls don’t sing niguns?” “Oh, they do,” she says before trailing off.”
  • Joey hasn’t said anything yet. He begins: “My name is Joey Weisenberg. I’m a musician during the week and I like to sing a lot on Shabbat and also elsewhere.”
  • He talks for a while about the subject, then says that in music school he used to get frustrated when they’d talk and talk and talk about Mozart. “Just put the music on! Let’s listen to it.” This is his segue to some music.
  • He has a girl hold a high note. He then joins her, starting low and getting higher and higher and we’re all instructed to raise our hands when he matches her. This happens twice, semi-successfully. Then he enlists a third person.
  • He talks about whether we liked it better when they matched pitch or when they were almost matching, something about harmony and tension that I’m not quite following.
  • Then he does the pitch thing again.
  • He keeps saying things like, “The role music plays in the Jewish world is it helps us to tune into the world.”
  • You say the Shema, but there’s the music also, “to which we attune as a group to achieve some unity.”
  • Now he has everybody doing the pitch thing together. Simi is amused. I think it sounds like the THX thing before the movie. I’m not playing along with this part, BTW.
  • We don’t sound great, he observes, “but we’re getting used to the group and the room.”
  • “I’m working for the re-shtetl-ization of the Jewish world.” He means that we’ve gotten too slick, too impersonal and–this next bit is a recurring theme with him–our prayer spaces have gotten too big.
  • Now we’re doing some rhythmic stuff. One person is stomping. The rest of us are utterly silent. “We just one the battle. We all paid attention.”
  • Now we’re stomping in unison. Simi joins in!
  • We’re speeding up. Joey notes that groups have a tendency to get faster tempo and higher pitched over time.
  • “There is a guy next to the rebbe in the chasidic world whose job it is to bring it back down when it gets to fast.”
  • “Amazing. 40 Jews in a room paying attention to what we’re doing. If we could achieve this in prayer spaces, we’d really be on to something.”
  • Meanwhile, I’m wondering if the chit-chat isn’t an integral part of the Jewish prayer aesthetic. And I’m only half-joking about that.
  • Now we’re stomping every fourth beat.
  • Now we’re stomping every other 4th beat, which is not working at all.
  • “We want to rush it. We do that in services when we don’t know what’s going on, we go faster.”
  • I do that! If I’m lost, I just stay where I am, but start going faster and getting really anxious about being in the right place until it becomes clear where we are.
  • “We need to relax our services.”
  • We’re doing every other fourth beat again, but it’s working really well. The only difference is that Joey is very, very quietly whispering, “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, etc.”
  • “I’m just whispering very little. The smallest amount of leadership from me is doing it…. We need clear signals from our leaders, but they can be very subtle.”
  • Back on the anti-big room thing: “Could you have heard me whispering across the room at a large suburban shul? No. We need closeness.”
  • He asks if we spread a string quartet out across a large space or spread out the logs of a fire. No. “Things that seem totally obvious elsewhere and yet, in this situation we instinctively blow it.”
  • Now we’re nigunning again. I’m not following this nigun very well–it seems to get louder, then trail off a little in some kind of pattern, but I’m having a hard time slipping into the pattern. Maybe that’s because I’m taking notes furiously.
  • Simi is having none of it.
  • I pause for a little while to focus on singing along.
  • Simi grabs my notepad and writes, “I feel like I’m in therapy- stop analyzing me!” “I’m writing about me too,” I write back.
  • Is this my whole problem, though? Do I analyze prayer during prayer too much.
  • He has the group doing a little clapping/stomping/patting beat thing consistently, while we continue with this complex nigun. But then he has our voices starting and stopping. He’s actually surprised by how well we recognize where we are in the melody every time he directs us to bring our voices back up.
  • “Point is, singing is not about making sounds…. It’s about trying to pay attention…. Music has the power to make us pay attention and that’s what we need.”
  • It’s an interesting point. We’re likely to actually say or read more of the words if there’s a good tune to say them to. I don’t know if that’s what he meant. Actually, I suspect it’s not. But I like it.
  • He says that the melody is irrelevant. A change in song won’t change the quality of what we’re doing, he says.
  • “Are we hearing ourselves and everyone else or are we waiting for it to end…. Those moments are the best davening moments, when you don’t need lunch” any more and you’re just happy to continue being there, praying and singing.
  • “The choir model sets us up for an expectation of perfection, but not in this [this cramped, everyone singing all at once] model.” He’s making lots of sense to me.
  • Then he says stuff like “Tune into each other’s energy” and I don’t what’s what anymore.
  • We’re singing. Joey’s not making a sound, but he’s rocking back and forth, shuckling in his seat. “Am I contributing?” he asks. Then he slouches and checks his watch. “How about now?”
  • One person says that he was at a shul with assigned seating on Rosh Hashanah, but knowing that he needed to be in the center of the action to daven properly, commandeered a seat closer to the front. He said he also knows that he has something to contribute to the davening, another reason to move toward the front.
  • I guess I’m quite different from that. I start thinking about where I sit at every place I’ve ever been a regular. I always sit all the way off to one side or the other, about 1/3 to 1/4 of the way from the front. Close enough to be in it, but far enough that I’ve got room to thing and, well, take notes like this.
  • We’ve been singing this same nigun for a long time and then the clapping begins. “Almost 40 minutes in, but then it begins…. If clapping begins immediately, the whole thing will be over in two minutes.”
  • “Where do words come in? This is working on its own.” He has us silent. “So if we get into the moment with music and then have the Amidah…” he trails off and stays quiet for a while. It’s eerily quiet. “Music is not about making noice, but drawing us in.”
  • Does anyone else find the pronunciation of nigun as though it is a verb, like “niggin’ ” unsettling and distasteful?
  • Now the group is listing off melodies for “Menucha Vesimcha,” some fast and some slow. The slow ones emphasize menucha (rest), while the fast ones emphasize simcha (joy).
  • “Does the melody need to match the meaning of the words?” someone asks. Joey’s noncommittal. He says that of late he’s been shying away from singing words at all, just filling in between prayers with nigunim.
  • One person points out that a lot of people think that the tune that has become universal for Aleinu is inappropriately bright and bouncy.
  • Another person disagrees, saying that it’s appropriately triumphalist.
  • I jump in: The meaning is important. If we use aesthetics to enhance meaning, even sit on par with it, we’re fine. But if we allow them to supersede and run roughshod over the meaning, we’ve missed the boat.
  • One person, Joey says, looking skeptical bored or whatever can ruin the whole thing. That’s often me, I think. Simi tell me that’s her right now.
  • Abruptly, we’re back to the nigun: “This is called the Hadar nigun, so it’s a good one for us to know.”
  • And now we’re standing up, still singing, louder and louder. Simi: “Seriously?” Me: “Goodness gracious.”
  • And then I notice that she’s started singing!
  • After, on the subway, Simi gets of at Times Square and I continue on to Penn Station. Alone with the strangers on the subway, I realize that I have the nigun stuck in my head now. The same one that we were singing all night and I couldn’t figure out at first is stuck in my head.
Good night.

Shabbat notes, 7/23/11: My Foot in Mouth is cured; More on last week’s Kaddish situation; Daf Yomi on the 7:51 to Penn Station

First, the good news: It seems I have rid myself of my Beth El-induced flareup of Foot in Mouth Disease. I haven’t done it in like two weeks.

More on last week’s Kaddish Yatom quandry: Pesukei and Shacharit were led this morning by a fellow who uses Koren Sacks when he isn’t leading. We had a great chat after services about our mutual love of Koren.

Anyway, I was surprised that he did Ps. 92 during Pesukei. Of course, as we discussed last week, we did it again after the Amidah when we did that whole Kaddish Yatom thing.

I was also amused this morning when I noticed that in the Koren Talpiot siddur, Ps. 92 actually follows the Kaddish Yatom at the end of the service. Which isn’t confusing–it’s just funny.

More from “Orthodox By Design”: I’m still reading “Orthodox By Design: Judaism, Print Politics and The ArtScroll Revolution.” Today, I was reading a bit in which it explains the popularity of Daf Yomi, the practice of studying on page of Talmud every day to complete the entire thing in seven years. And this passage struck me as a description of a wonderful textural element of reality:

One rather famous study circle, led by Rabbi Pesach Lerner, consists of a group of lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who have been meeting daily since the early 1990s on the 7:51 a.m. commuter train from Far Rockaway [outer Queens] to Penn Station in New York City.

That’s all for now. Shabbat Shalom

Turning the welcoming up to 11–A review of two services at Beth El in South Orange, NJ

Yesterday, I was at the UJA Federation building in Manhattan for a conference. There, I was introduced to Rabbi Danny Allen, the head of ARZA. As it turns out, he lives right here in South Orange, NJ, my new stomping grounds. As soon as he found out where I lived, he whipped out a business card, wrote his home phone number on the back and told me to call him if I needed anything. It turns out that he’s also a member of Beth El, the Conservative shul around the corner from me. I asked if he’d be there that night and he said no, but that he would be there in the morning.

So, all alone, I made the five minute walk there at 6:15 last night for services. As soon as I got there, I ran into someone who looked very familiar. She turned out to be Rabbi Francine Roston, who I had met a few months ago at a conference at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah. And that’s when the overwhelming welcoming began.

I’ll now move into the bullet point format that’s been working for these reviews lately and then I’ll do the ballpoint pen rating at the end.

Erev Shabbat

  • The hatless rabbi: After figuring out who I was, we went in and Roston muttered something about needing a kippah. I figured she meant me. Luckily I came prepared. I pulled one out of my back pocket and pinned it on. Then, I noticed that she was the one without a kippah! She fiddled around in the bin-o-kippot by the door and got one out for herself.
  • Fruits of remodeling: Tomorrow, Beth El will dedicate their “Ochs Campus,” which is actually the same location they’ve always been at, but with a major face-lift from the Ochs family, whose name the local day school also bears.
  • Nice Western light: The small chapel where we did Kabbat Shabbat was lovely. It looks like a totally new addition to the building, with seating on three side facing a shtender in the middle, which the rabbi led from. The back wall is stained glass and faces West, an inspired choice for a Conservative shul, where Friday night is likely to be a small service. The light was great as the sun began to sink low.
  • Service times: Though the light was great, the sun didn’t set by the time we were done. Their services start at 6:15 through the end of June and then move to 8 something beginning in July.
  • Making the minyan: At 6:15, there were about 6 people, including myself, the rabbi and one mourner. So Roston was out in the lobby on her cell trying to get a minyan. By the time it mattered, we had a minyan and by the time we were done, there were 15 or so people.
  • Musically boring, but not bad: Beth El has a cantor, but the cantor was not present. Roston’s voice is good enough for me, but nothing special. Kabbalat Shabbat was done in a typical nusach/Carlebach sort of way, but she opted for the most boring option at every turn. With only a couple of exceptions, she did the chant-the-first-and-last-lines thing.
  • Lecha Dodi: So musically uninteresting were her choices that we only used one tune for LD. In shuls that sing the full piyyut, they almost always switch tunes in the middle and I’ve started to be surprised when I find them not doing it. It’s a better solution to the monotony of the length of the piyyut than the Reform solution, which is truncation.
  • Good participation: Despite the small crowd, the singing was decently participatory when we actually did sing something, like LD.
  • Welcoming mourners: There is this line, “Hamakom yenachem…/May God comfort you…” that every siddur prints after LD with the explanation that it is to be said to the congregation’s mourners. I’ve never actually seen it done, but Roston actually forgot to do it and apologized, flipping back a page and turning to face the mourner. She had everyone read it together to him. It was pretty jarring to me.
  • Chatzi Kaddish nusach slip-up: Roston did CK to the wrong nusach–an accident to which I’m often susceptible–and then smirked to a guy sitting behind me. I later learned that he’s a past president of the Beth El. She muttered something to him about getting it wrong and he chuckled.
  • Magein Avot (v’Imahot): Beth El calls itself and egalitarian Conservative congregation. So it was noteworthy, though not surprising that Roston does the mamas and papas, which I discovered when we got to Magen Avot. More on gender roles at Beth El later.
  • Correct Kaddish Shalem nusach: Sometimes, once you fall off the nusach horse, it’s real hard to get back on. There was an odd pause before Kaddish Shalem as I noticed Roston glance at the same guy from before. He muttered the first couple words of KS to the correct nusach and she was able to get going.

Shabbat Morning

I arrived at 9:25 and the service started quite promptly at 9:30. I don’t know whether to add or subtract points for that. Roston and I were the first into the room, a larger sanctuary that looks like it’s a dramatic recent remodel of an existing sanctuary. It was quite nice, remarkable, given that I rarely like modernist sanctuaries. Luckily, I chose to sit one row behind a group of three older men who arrived a little after I did. It turns out they’re the peanut gallery. It’s good to spot your own kind in an unfamiliar place. One of them is also the provost of JTS, who had just led the Torah study before services.

  • Birchot Hashachar: Roston began with the daily blessings on p. 65 of Siddur Sim Shalom, that little section that Gates of Prayer called Nisim B’chol Yom. As with the service the previous night, almost everything was done in a very minimal chant-the-first-and-last-lines sort of way.
  • Skipping ahead: We continued in that fashion until p. 67 “…mekadeish at shimcha barabim” when we skipped ahead to p. 81 for Ps. 30. That means that we skipped the selection of texts that SSS replaces Korbanot with, Kaddish D’Rabbanan and Ps. 92 (the daily psalm). We then did Kaddish Yatom and moved on to…
  • Pesukei Dezimra: This section proceeded in what was quickly becoming a boring fashion, the familiar first and last line shtick.
    • A brief excerpt from a long list of things we did not sing: We managed not to sing even Ps. 136 (the one with the “ki le’olam chasdo” refrain. We also did not chant Ashrei, though we certainly didn’t skip it.
    • A brief, though complete list, of things we did sing: Luckily, Ps. 150 is too musically themed to keep even this crowd from singing it, though the melody was unfamiliar to me. In Shirat Hayam, I was surprised to find us singing “Ozi vezimrat Yah vayehi li lishuah” to that Shefa Gold tune.
    • Shochein Ad leader switch: At Shochein Ad, a very young-looking leader replaced Roston at the shtender. Her style was similar Roston’s. I later learned she is Evelyn, who just graduated from Rutgers. More on her later.
    • The ladies of Beth El: I will point out at this point that the entire service was lead by women, with exception of the Torah Service, which had a male reader and gabbai.
  • El Adon: Evelyn gave us a thankful reprieve from the usual when we got to this portion of Yotzer Or. I’m pretty sure there’s a law these days requiring El Adon to be sung.
  • Amidah: There was a silent Amidah and a reader’s repetition. It is worth noting here that we did a Heiche Kedushah (first three blessings of the Amidah together, the rest silently) in Musaf.
  • Welcoming gone wild: On Friday night, Roston introduced me to everybody twice, once at the beginning of the service and once at the end. This morning about a half dozen past presidents introduced themselves or were introduced to me during the service. One gave me an Aliyah. While sitting on the bimah during the fifth aliyah, waiting for my turn at the sixth, Roston asked if I read Torah. I told her no. She asked if I can lead davening. I said yes. There were about a dozen handshakes and full name introductions on my way back to my seat after the Aliyah.
  • Korens and Evelyn: By this point, I had relocated to sit with Danny (the rabbi from the very beginning of the post), who was sitting right behind Evelyn and her family. I was introduced to Evelyn, who was using the Koren Sacks, which I commended her on. She told me that she had asked for it as a birthday present. My kind of person. There were two other Korens in the congregation as well.
  • Mi Shebeirach gone wild: I know that we all have to join the cult of intercessory healing prayers know, but Beth El’s version is the most odious I’ve yet seen. People, like 20 of them, lined up on the ramp to the bimah while the rest of them hummed or something and they came up one-by-one to grab the Torah and say a special prayer from someone in need of healing. Danny, correctly perceiving my expression as one of incredulity, seemed not to think too much of it either. “It’s not a theological decision,” he said. “It is,” I said, “it’s just not being made for theological reasons.” Then, a little later, they wanted everyone who had gone up to the Torah to stand up for a special prayer. I stayed in my seat.
  • Musaf: As noted, Musaf was done as a Heiche Kedushah. Word on the street is that Roston wants to do away with Musaf. Oh dear. It seems I’ve found a shul with a liturgical debate worth wading into.
    • Abigail’s Sharon’s more diverse musical tastes: Musaf was led by Evelyn’s younger sister, Abigail Sharon (I think I thought, but turned out to be wrong). This was interesting because Abigail’s Sharon’s musical choices and the congregation’s acceptance of them is a sign that the music doesn’t always have to be as boring as it was.
    • A-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-Adonai… I don’t actually like doing this verison of “Adonai sefatai tiftach…” but the fact that Abigail Sharon chose to was a good sign, given what I said in the previous bullet point.
  • Aleinu: Abigail Sharon went with your standard Camp Ramah-style Aleinu, with lots of singing and stomping and so forth.

After the service, I could scarcely walk two feet without being intercepted for lengthy introductions. Which was bad because I wanted a bagel. But it was good because now I think I’ve met everybody in the world, including one lesbian mother of three who told me that she’s the unofficial matchmaker at Beth El and that she’d start thinking about finding someone for me. Welcome to South Orange, apparently.

The Five Ballpoint Pen Rating (The rating system is explained here.)

Music and Ruach: Three Ballpoint Pens

The congregation was engaged and participated, but not particularly loudly. The leading was all competent, through and through, but of three service leaders I experienced across two services, only one (Abigail, who I’m guessing is 20 like 15 years old) did anything particularly interesting with her moment at the shtender. On its own, the congregation’s participation would probably pull a three and a half, while the music on its own would probably be a two and a half. As always, keep in mind that this is only a rating of the two services I attended this week and that neither involved Beth El’s cantor.

The Chaos Quotient: Three Ballpoint Pens

Beth El was pretty light on the chaos, but I felt totally at home nonetheless. There was a solid low-level hum of chaos surrounding distribution of honors, especially the Torah service, but nothing too special. The only thing keeping this from being two and a half is the nusach issues I saw on Friday night.

Liturgical Health: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

There were, as far as I saw, three other people who brought their own siddur, each one a Koren Sacks. (I brought the Sim Shalom commentary, Or Hadash.) In an ordinary shul, that’s something, I guess–even if one of them turned out to be the provost of JTS! There was a good level of lay-leading throughout the service, as I discussed above. What keeps this rating from being a three is the questionable and totally bizarre Mi Shebeirach situation.

Welcoming Community: Five Ballpoint Pens

This might actually be the first time I’ve rated anything as a five since I started using the ballpoint pen scale. And it should be obvious from everything I said above why. These people welcome you like it’s their job.

Overall Rating: Four Ballpoint Pens

Not much left to say, except that, for maybe the first time, the warmth of the community elevated the rating past the solid three I would have given based on the other categories.

Mincha x2: My afternoon adventure

There’s a bunch of photos in this post. If you’re viewing in a reader, I recommend going out to the post to see it properly.

I’m currently staying with some friends in Astoria, Queens. They go to work all day. So I went on an adventure today. And ended up hitting to different minyans for mincha!

You can’t see it here, but if you look up, you can see the spire of the Empire State Building above J. Levine.

My first stop was J. Levine. The store has been family-operated for five generations and has thrived in recent years by diversifying its offerings. The siddur shelves–which I’m know kicking myself for not taking pictures of today–have everything from multiple editions of Mishkan Tefilah to a full line of ArtScroll siddurim.

I happen to know the current Levine-in-Chief, Danny, who acts as conference bookseller during Limmud NY every year.

I was there to get a klaf for my current hosts’ mezuzah, which they hadn’t hung yet–call it a housewarming gift. But while I was there, I couldn’t resist wandering back through the narrow, cluttered store to the siddur shelves. And it took everything I had to resist the urge to buy any.

I noticed one woman–behind the counter–and maybe five or so men scattered throughout the store. I heard one of them walk past me muttering something about starting mincha soon.

Next thing I knew, one guy chant/calls out: “Ashrei! Yoshvei veite… mumble mumble selah mumble mumble mumble.” Ashrei had begun.

Oddly, when I looked up, I saw at least a dozen Orthodox men had materialized. One was shopping, flipping through a children’s book while muttering the words of the prayers to himself! Several of the new arrivals were full-on black hatters.

I got my klaf–the woman behind the counter had not stopped to daven–and got out before they were halfway through the Amidah.

I next made my way up to the Upper West Side to meet up with the Soferet, Jen Taylor-Friedman. Jen has a fun thing lying about that we’ve been to meet up so she can give me for ages. She said she’d be hanging around at Yeshivat Hadar this afternoon so I decided to meet her there. In the end, she couldn’t find the thing to bring it to me.

I arrived a little before she did, just as Mincha was starting! Ethan Tucker, one of the roshei yeshiva, was on his way and said hi to me. I told him I was looking for Jen and he said she hadn’t been in, but that one of the Hadar fellow was about to give a devar and that after that, the yeshiva becomes and open study space and that I was welcome to hang around.

So I decided to hang around for the devar, which, it turned out, was being given by a friend of mine, ASB. Here he is giving the devar:

ASB is the one in the middle, perched on the chair. One of the little heads to ASB’s left is my number one fan, Alex.

Anyway, Jen arrived just as ASB had finished up. Despite not being to find the thing she was gonna bring me, I had a good time checking out her latest project:

In a play on the tradition of a megilah where each column of text begins with hamelech, the king, Jen is creating a megilat Ester where each column begins with the word  hamalkah, the queen!

And now, a few words on the beautiful space that Yeshivat Hadar learns in. They study at the West End Synagogue, a Reconstructionist shul, (though Hadar itself is far from Recon!).

In the photo of ASB giving his devar above, you can see their sanctuary. Apparently, WES used to be a public library, so there are still bookshelves all around, which makes for a nice atmosphere for the yeshiva. There are many more chairs stack at the back, which I assume the yeshiva unstacks at the end of the week when WES is preparing for Shabbat services. The funny thing is seeing the yeshiva fellows sitting around in these chairs, which all have pockets on the back with copies of Kol Haneshama, the Recon. siddur!

There is some great not-stained-but-textured glass at the back of the sanctuary:

The doorway at the far right is at the top of the stair that lead into the sanctuary/yeshiva. I think it’s a really nice space. I’m considering adding WES to my list of places to pop into one week for services.

A review of a new minyan in Austin–and how a Christian gospel tune wound up there

I have previously written about this tune’s use by Jews here.

The review of Minyan Kol Zimra at Congregation Agudas Achim is toward the bottom. I begin this post with some history about the bizarre liturgical wanderings of this song:

I first heard “Lord Prepare Me” at Kutz, the Reform movement’s high school-only summer camp, in the summer of 2006. A girl’s cabin was leading services and they sang this song to begin services:

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary / Pure and holy, tried and true / With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you / etc.

After that, I heard it multiple times in Reform youth settings. I have heard it sung in English, sung as a nigun and I’ve heard it used as a tune for Hinei Mah Tov–and as combinations of all of the above. I’ve also heard a version where the line “V’asu li Mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham (Build me a Temple so I can dwell among you)” is used as the lyrics.

Recently, I started hearing it in the indie minyan world. According to notes in the margin of my Koren Talpiot Siddur, I heard it on Nov. 19 at Kol Zimrah on the UWS of NYC. It was used as a tune for Mi Chamochah. A quick survey of two people sitting with me found that neither of them knew the origin of the tune. A bigger survey at dinner revealed that no one I asked about it knew where the tune was from.

I’m also pretty sure I’ve heard it in some other indie minyan setting, but I can’t recall where.

This week, my dad and I went to check out Minyan Kol Zimra (no relation), a new chapel minyan at our local Conservative shul, Congregation Agudas Achim. Rachel Kobrin, their young new assistant rabbi, started the monthly minyan a while ago (meaning she’s been there a year, I became aware of the minyan this summer, but I have no idea when it started). She bills it as a musical, community-led minyan. Clearly, she’s trying to replicate the feeling of an indie minyan.

To some extent, it works. To some extent, it doesn’t. She tried to get people to get up and dance with her twice, with very limited success. She said at one point that people often shout out a new tune or nigun and the leader will adjust to follow the spontaneous change. Yet, I observed that on the couple of occasions that this happened, it was just Kobrin starting up with something and leader following suit.

One of the nigunim that she lead (and there were many) was a nigun of “Lord Prepare Me.” She also used it as the tune for the Musaf Kedushah, which only kind of worked.

Overall, I liked MKZ. It was spirited–mostly. There were a few stumbles where the majority of people–including myself–seemed complete confused as to where we where in the tune or the nusach, which was mostly because tunes from anywhere and everywhere in the Carlebach-indie-etc-whatever repertoire were being applied to pieces of liturgy they weren’t necessarily made to fit. But that was fine.

The level of chaos was off the charts. My dad and I love chaos in a service, especially in Shabbat morning, but even we were surprised by the level of chaos achieved by this group. Which isn’t a criticism. We loved that aspect of it. And the group was as warm and welcoming as a high level of chaos usually indicate.

I have one major criticism: The service began with Shacharit. We skipped right over Morning Blessings and Pesukei Dezimrah and went right to Nishmat. From there on out, it was a full Conservative service–though we did use the “Heiche Kedushah” business where you don’t do a repetition of the Amidah or Musaf. You might think that excluding the whole beginning of the service and the Reader’s Repetitions, only doing Shacharit, Amidah, Torah Service and Musaf would shorten the service. Yet, MKY managed to drag the service out from 9:40 or so all the way until noon! This is probably because of excessive niguning and the terrific chaos.

EDITED 12/21/10 around noon: Apparently, for the first nine months of Minyan Kol Zimra, they did Pesukei Dezimra. It was a new experiment this week to replace is with some niguning.

I give Minyan Kol Zimra at Congregation Agudas Achim three ballpoint pens.

Limmud NY will make you smarter and more attractive

OK. So maybe the title is a bit of an exaggeration, but Limmud NY is pretty damn great.

It’s an annual gathering of hundreds of Jews of every age (tots to college students to twentysomethings to  families to retirees) and background (Orthodox to Renewal to non/post/trans-denominational to Conservative to Reform to secular to whatever the hell else you call yourself).

We’re there to learn, sing, hang out, drink, teach and bask in the glory of the broadest definition of Torah you can conjure up.

This year it’s MLK weekend: Jan. 14-17. And it’s at the Hudson Valley Resort in the Catskills.

At Limmud NY, everything is volunteer-run and everyone is a learner and a teacher.

You can register here. Fees go up after December 16. And there’s always scholarship money available, so don’t be discouraged by prices.

And you can check out some of this year’s confirmed presenters here.

Here’s everything I’ve ever written about Limmud NY.

Let’s do Stage 3 in the morning; P’sukei D’zimrah; Etc.

Crossposted to Jewschool

Fellow Jewschooler BZ over at Mah Rabu has put up the long-awaited Part VIII of his Hilchot Pluralism series. HP is a series of case studies in what BZ calls Stage 3 Jewish pluralism. In Part VIII, he covers a novel solution to the issue of one and two-day yom tov observances. Tikkun Leil Shabbat, a DC group, celebrated Simchat Torah this year in such a way that people who believed it to be chag and people who believed it to be a weekday could participate equally within their own frameworks. It’s fascinating. You should read Hilchot Pluralism.

All of this had me re-reading all of HP. Re-reading it, combined with my slightly unsatisfactory recent experiences in a couple of different New York City prayer communities had me giving serious consideration to a big new project. I’ve also been thinking about less than a year from now when my NJ chavurah is not going to be an option for me every week. (And yes, Larry, I’ve also been thinking about your admonishments about creating vs. criticizing).

HP paints such a perfect picture for me. The only place I’ve ever been (not that I don’t know of others) that lives up to BZ’s vision of Stage 3 pluralism is Kol Zimrah. KZ meets once a month and only on Friday nights. But I want what is on offer at KZ every Friday night. And then I want it again in the morning. And I want it in a daily minyan. And I want it on holidays. This is a tall order.

So this week, I began starting to think toward creating one more element of this.

For some, like me, what draws them to KZ is the pluralism. I like the singing, but I like the ideas more. However, most of the people who come are probably more drawn in by the singing and spirited atmosphere. The spirited singing is thanks to two liturgical developments. First, we can thank some Medieval Kabbalists for giving us Kabbalat Shabbat. And second, we can thank Shlomo Carelbach for giving us some great tunes to make Kabbalat Shabbat a fun, engaging prayer experience. In essence, KZ without a Carelbach Kabbalat Shabbat would be a shell of itself.

So maybe what we need to create is the same kind of big singing, big fun prayer experience on Shabbat morning.

Luckily, much like Kabbalat Shabbat, we have hefty section of psalms to sing in the morning too! P’sukei D’zimrah usually gets shafted in shul. Most people don’t even show up until its over. It’s also long, so if we actually sang all of it, we wouldn’t be done with services until it’s time for Minchah.

We’ve got tunes for all of these psalms, but some may not work for the kind of spirited experience I’m talking about here. Especially if Carlebach (or Carlebach-esque) music is what is needed, we’re in trouble. For Psalm 150 and for 92 and a few others, we’ve got no problem.

But for some pslams, this will take some work. I chatted with Russ, our chazan (OK, our JTS student chazan, but he’s our chazan) at Chavurat Lamdeinu here in Jersey, about it this morning. I’m a bit melodically-challenged sometimes, so the obvious hadn’t occurred to me. Russ pointed out that Carlebach (and others) have a gazillion nigunim out there that could be laid on top of some of these psalms. This will take some work, but it’s doable.

Of course, as others have pointed out to me as I’ve rambled about this idea off and on this week, there are also some significant practical challenges here. Getting a minyan together on a Shabbat morning is harder than on a Shabbat evening because you need a Torah. You also need people to read Torah. This stuff is infinitely surmountable, but it’s there nonetheless.

The biggest challenge would be time. At its fullest, by my count, P’sukei D’zimrah includes 16 full psalms, the entire Song of the Sea, two prayers and a whole host of ancillary biblical passages. This is a more than twice as much material as Kabbalat Shabbat, which only has 8 psalms and a few extra piyutim/songs (usually between one and three songs, though it depends on who you talk to).

So there would probably need to be cuts. Personally, I’d probably start with the ancillary biblical passages, but I wouldn’t want to make these decisions alone anyway.

There would also have to be some discussion of how to do the rest of the service, with very careful attention paid to the requirements of Stage 3.  Issues like the number of aliyot and the triennial cycle would certainly be up for discussion. Other parts of the service would need discussion too, such as the Amidah, where a Heiche Kedushah (leader does Amidah aloud through the Kedushah, everyone continues silently on their own, no leader’s repetition after) would probably merit discussion. And Birkot Hashacar etc, despite being a favorite of mine, would probably be right out because that can all be done at home before arriving or individually by people who arrive early.

That’s about as far as my thinking on this has taken me so far. Thoughts, anyone? Who’s with me?

I didn’t really like Sukkah City

As far as I can tell, the only relatively negative coverage so far of Sukkah City has been at New Voices. Our slideshow, embedded below, has a few comments from me thrown in. Overall, I disliked Sukkah City because it made Judaism a conceptual abstraction. No one can enter or try to use the sukkot on display, which shows a basic failure to grasp the concept of the sukkah on the part of the exhibition itself.